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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Listening Process

Listening Process facilitator meets with Integrity, other groups
Two-day meeting explores full-inclusion issues
By Mary Frances Schjonberg, June 28, 2007

[Episcopal News Service]
A group brought together by Integrity USA, the church's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affinity group, spent June 27-28 telling the facilitator of the Anglican Communion's Listening Process about their experience of being homosexual or transgender, or having a family member or friend who is.

The group met at the General Theological Seminary with the Rev. Canon Phil Groves.

The Primates Meeting at Dromantine, Ireland, in February 2005 asked the Anglican Consultative Council "to take positive steps to initiate the listening and study process" which has been the subject of resolutions at Lambeth Conferences since at least 1978 (Lambeth 1978, Resolution 10).

The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, appointed Groves as the facilitator of the Listening Process in November 2005. His task, as defined in a portion of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, is to establish "a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion" and to help the communion listen to the experiences of homosexual persons.

His office asked every communion province to supply summaries of the work it has done thus far to the entire communion for study and reflection. Those summaries are available here. A description of how the information was gathered is available here.

At their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, the primates asked for a study guide (paragraph 13) to assist Anglican Communion bishops who will gather next year at the Lambeth Conference. Groves is collecting contributions to be used in writing that guide.

Anglicans whom Groves has recruited from throughout the communion will facilitate the compilation of each section of the guide. It is expected that the bishops at Lambeth will use the study guide for reflection and will then "go away and contemplate in their own place and with their own people" to discern the course of their future engagement, he said.

The collection of material gathered for the study guide and the accumulation of the provinces' work on human sexuality "is going to have to be on paper," Groves said, because in some instances that is the only way some voices from some provinces will be heard. The guide will be backed up by a larger collection on CD-ROM.

Lyn Headley-Deavours, justice minister for the Diocese of Newark, urged Groves to ensure that the process quickly involves people across the communion actually listening to each other. The Rev. Dr. Cy Deavours, co-director of the Oasis LGBT ministry in the Diocese of New Jersey, told Groves he'd like some assurance that the listening will actually happen.

Groves said he would do all he could to ensure that LGBT voices are heard with the cooperation of groups such as Integrity. "I feel confident it will be done," he said, because the Anglican Communion office is supporting his efforts.

Groves outlines his role as facilitator
At the opening of the General Seminary meeting on June 27, Groves explained his overall role.

While he has his own opinions about the issue of the inclusion of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion, he said, "if I am perceived as being on a side, I am worthless to you." He also cautioned that the process needs to hear from as many voices as possible, including some "that you believe have caused intense damage."

The hoped-for long-term result of the Listening Process, he said, is that with the inclusion of as many voices as possible, "we will know the gospel better." He asked the Integrity group to support the process by contributing papers and other resources by mid-August of this year.

Group's conversations range far and wide
The June 27-28 meeting followed the study guide's eight sections: the mission of the church, the witness of the Bible, the witness of tradition, homosexuality and science, homosexuality and culture, sexuality and identity, sexuality and spirituality, and developing skills in listening.

Roughly 20 people participated over two days in the conversations as the group examined the implications of including LGBT people fully in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

The Rev. Susan Russell, Integrity president, suggested that the Episcopal Church should declare sexual orientation "morally neutral" and then call all people into "a holy life and wholeness." The church came close to doing just that at the 2000 General Convention, she said, when it passed Resolution D039, acknowledging that many Episcopalians live in life-long committed relationships that are not bound by marriage.

Donald Whipple Fox, a Dakota Episcopalian who is executive director of the Diocese of Minnesota's Indigenous Theological Training Institute, said the conversation reminded him of his grandmother being told she had to stop being an Indian to be a Christian.

"I wish we'd had this conversation 200 years ago," said Fox, who pointed out that the notion of "coming out" as LGBT has not been common until recently in Native American communities because it seems to value the individual over the community.

Native communities traditionally regard homosexuality as "a spiritual calling" and thus "coming out" is not so much a declaration of identity as acceptance of a sacred responsibility to the wider community.

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, past president of Integrity and rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene in Rochester, New York, questioned how the culture of listening in the Anglican Communion is being "managed," adding that he's "desperate just to sit down with other people in the communion to talk about Jesus and the Bible" and how his faith influences his life and work.

Groves told ENS that he was excited by his time with the Integrity group. "They are a group of people who are delighted to be involved with the wider communion ... and they are a group of people committed to talking about Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "Not everyone will agree with them. They don't always agree with one another, but their voices are committed to the wider church."

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.


Suzer said...

I wish the listening process didn't have to be so formalized. Ideally, the listening process might be better in the form of everyone joining together (from all "sides") and serving the homeless a hot meal, sharing stories about their lives during the meal, doing the dishes, then retiring to a comfy living room with a few beers. Then share more about our lives, our loves, how we find ourselves where we are (gay, straight, anywhere on the spectrum), our religious upbringing, etc. Then do it all again the next week, and the week after that, and so on and so forth.

Of course, I know this would be impossible. But I know I would hate to be part of a listening process where I felt I was giving testimony in a court case, defending my love and my life experience. Perhaps the picture I'm getting of this process isn't accurate, but that's the way it looks to me when it seems such a formal structure. Am I mistaken? (I suspect you might be able to tell me if I am.) I hope this process is less like a court proceeding and more like a friendly chat.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

If the British are running anything - even a "listening process" - it's bound to be highly formalized.

Even "friendly chats" with a Brit, in my experience, always comes with an agenda hovering nearby.

While I love your idea of the process, I seriously doubt it would ever be approved by anyone across the pond.

Even so, it's a lovely thought.

Bill said...

I agree with “Suzer”. This sort of formalized “listening” can scare people. It can take on the aspect of an inquisition. And, who is to have access to the information. I know of at least one “blogger” who is a pastor and is not out to his/her community. Does this mean that we will never get to hear his/her story. Information has a way of leaking out to the general public. What mechanisms are in place to protect the individual. People have been let go for less. Because the organization in question is a religious group, the state takes a hands-off approach. The discrimination laws that protect us in the secular world don’t apply.

The other aspect is that, it seems like I have to justify my life style to a room full of old men with beards. I don’t believe it to be sin and I don’t appreciate being told I’m an abomination. I just want to be able to practice my religion without fear or repercussions. If they followed the teachings of Jesus we wouldn’t be where we are now.

I know it’s part of the process, but I don’t have to like it. I don’t need someone asking me why I choose to sleep with a man. I don’t ask them why they choose to sleep with the opposite sex. I don’t question their bedroom activities. It’s none of my business. Religion should be about the soul not the body. Religion should be about love not intercourse. Religion should be about getting into heaven not checking into a motel. Until they stop thinking with their loins, this will never be put to rest.

Suzer said...

I hope you won't think I was complaining -- it was more of an observation. After I wrote my comment, I thought it might have sounded a bit whiny. That's not what I intended.

I am grateful there is a listening process at all. It's just that it seems like a most uncomfortable situation that might be more comfortable if it were a bit less like giving testimony, sort of "I'd better make this good because this is my one shot at being heard in the listening process," you know?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No whinning heard, Suzer. I was present for part of the "Listening Session" and I thought it went quite well - although I still think your image is much more to the point.

Susan Russell said...

Commenting from JFK waiting to fly home ... more later ... but THANKS for being part of "launching" this "Listening Thing" ... which I have firmly filed under "Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained!"